I love sports memorabilia. I like baseball cards, basketball cards and especially game-worn jerseys. The problem with sports memorabilia is a portion of the objects, not all, must be authenticated or graded in order to garner serious bids at auction.
Let's take baseball cards as an example. We quite often see a box or book of cards when clearing out an estate. Just like everything else, everyone thinks that their cards are great, especially if they are pre-1970s. Generally, none of the cards are graded. This always starts the grading question, and there is no cut and dry answer. So, when should you get a card graded?
First off, grading cards costs money, you generally have to send them off to one of the grading agencies (PSA, SGC or Beckett) and are charged for the service. The card will be returned in a “slab”, a sealed plastic container with a hologram sticker stating the grade of the card. Grading takes into account condition, edges, centering of the image etc. This alone will make the grading of cards of non-stars cost prohibitive, they will probably cost more to get graded than they will be worth. Cards that should be graded are vintage cards in good condition from well known players. There are a few sets of cards that will always be worth grading, for example, the 1952 Topps Baseball set and cigarette cards from the early 20th century. There is a ton of information on this topic online for those who are on the fence. In fact, there are several online databases and eBay that make researching and making this decision much easier.
As for autographed memorabilia and game-used items, authentication is the key to the value. It makes sense, proving autographs are authentic and whether a jersey was worn in a game are not easy endeavors and should be left to experts. In some sports, like Ice Hockey, jerseys are generally sold with an accompanying proof photo that matches stick and puck marks on the jersey with a game photo. If you are purchasing items online, make sure that there is more than a certificate of authenticity accompanying your purchase, game-worn items should be authenticated by one of the agencies and have a hologram affixed.
So what do you do if you are at the game and player X throws their jersey or a shoe to your son or daughter? Ask for a picture of the athlete handing the jersey or scramble to take a quick picture of the athlete without the jersey. If you want to get the jersey authenticated, this will go a long way.
At the end of the day, collecting sports memorabilia for me is much more about the close connection the items give me to the team or athlete. Several of my most prized game worn possessions I could never get authenticated. I know what they are, I know where they came from and I love to be around them!